How to Tell Your Classroom’s Story

By AJ Juliani on May 16, 2014

You may have missed it along the way, but your class has a story. You might have been caught up in the everyday grind, or overwhelmed, or possibly just enjoying the moment…but your class has a story.

We eat, live, and learn with our students for almost 10 months. We watch them fail. We watch them grow. We see them connect and collaborate. We help them create and build. Yet, as the school year comes to a close it’s time to look at your class story. Because every class is different, and every story has a different ending.

How to Tell a Story

I recently read Donald Miller’s eBook, “How to Tell a Story”. It was a quick read, but one that caught me a bit off guard. Sometimes we take stories for granted or think that they are “just for kids”; but as adults, we shape our lives through stories. Each day has a beginning, middle, and end. Each life situation, each job, and each year is shaped in much the same way.

The same goes for your class and the school year. Miller gives a simple story structure that is used in thousands of books, movies, and in our own lives. Let’s look at how this applies to your class:

How to Tell a Story

The character in your class story could be an individual student or the entire class. Once you’ve defined the character, the next step is understanding what the problem is/was.

My Class Story

I’ve written a lot about the “20% Project” in my class a few years ago. That class story would looks like this:

The character (my students) had a problem (they were solely focused on what grade they received and not the learning experience). They met a guide (me) who gave them a plan (the 20% Project) and called them to action (learn what you want and what you are passionate about…not because I’m giving you a grade). That ended in a comedy (happy ending when the presentations came through with amazing work that was not tied to grades).

Inside of this class story would be many individual stories. One such story could look like this:

The character (a girl in my class) had a problem (she was afraid to share her own music with the world). She met a guide (a mentor we found through the project) who gave her a plan (you don’t need to perform in front of people at first) and called her to action (record yourself and put it up online anonymously at first…and write about it), that ended in a comedy (she received positive feedback online and eventually added her name and more songs).

As a teacher, we are often the guide who calls the character (class or student) to action. However, we can also sometimes point the character to a different guide (it doesn’t always have to be us) who may be able to help better for various circumstances.

The point is to view your class and each individual student as a story waiting to happen…

Crafting Your Class Story

Teaching is not always easy. And learning can be a struggle for many of our students. As educators we are called to this back and forth process of teaching and learning. We push and challenge, and then support and guide. It’s easy to get lost in the grind. It’s why so many teachers get burnt out…and why so many students complain about school.

However, if we think about each school year as a journey — one that will not only come to an end, but also lead to new journeys — then our mindset changes from dealing with the grind, to crafting the best story possible. When talking to students at the beginning of the year (or throughout the course) make sure they understand the journey you are about to take, because as Miller points out, people understand complicated concepts when presented in story format:

If you want people to understand and identify with a complicated concept, tell a story about it. Telling a story often creates a “clicking experience” in a person’s brain allowing them to suddenly understand what someone else is trying to say. As such, those who can tell good stories will create faster, stronger connections with others.

Here’s the piece that many teachers (me included) often miss.

Sometimes the main character in the story isn’t the students. Sometimes that main character is the teacher. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone through a school year and had my students guide me and call me to action. In fact, the best stories are when I’m joining them on the adventure. When we are embarking together and learning by each other’s side. We may be learning different lessons along the way, but the journey is shared.

What’s your class story?

This is the fourth post in the “Innovative Teaching Challenge” series. You can read more about the series here, or learn more about my class story in my upcoming book: Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom: How 20% TIme, Genius Hour and PBL Drive Student Success (coming on  June 17th).

Photo Credit: Dvortygirl via Compfight cc

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